Parents demand rethink on cuts to children’s groups

TOY TIME From left: Tracey Irish, volunteer; Louise Davies and her daughter Lillie Davies, one; Karen Drayton, toy library advisor; Lily Mariner, two; and Bailey Whittle, three.   Picture: Sarah Standing (110601-4115)
TOY TIME From left: Tracey Irish, volunteer; Louise Davies and her daughter Lillie Davies, one; Karen Drayton, toy library advisor; Lily Mariner, two; and Bailey Whittle, three. Picture: Sarah Standing (110601-4115)

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PARENTS are urging Portsmouth City Council to think again about cuts to children’s groups.

Connors Toy Libraries is on a list of services which could face huge cuts to its funding as the cash-strapped council tries to save millions of pounds.

Also at risk are Boogie Mites music classes in Festing Road, Southsea, and Little Steps gym sessions held at community centres across the city.

Library services run at children’s centres in Portsmouth are also under threat.

Parents, volunteers and childminders are now pleading with the council to change its mind.

Portsmouth-based group Connors Toy Libraries runs 18 free services across the city lending out toys and organising weekly play sessions.

A report prepared by the council suggests getting rid of all but the charity’s single mobile library – and cutting its funding by 65 per cent.

But Karen Drayton, who helps run Connors, said almost 10,000 people used the libraries over the last year, and closing them would be devastating for the city’s children.

She said: ‘When we realised what we were facing we were absolutely shocked, and the parents who use our libraries have been distraught.

‘With that kind of funding cut we will have to close all our centres. That will mean all our work lending toys to families, schools, childminders and play groups will be lost. I just hope the council will think again.’

The cuts are partly to make up for a 17 per cent cut in the Early Intervention Grant, which will become the major source of funding for children’s services next year.

Connors volunteer and mum-of-three, Tracey Irish, said the children’s groups had made a big difference to her two-year-old daughter, Abigail.

‘We go to Boogie Mites and Little Steps all the time,’ said the 39-year-old, from Strode Road, Stamshaw. It would be awful if all these great things disappeared.’

Childminder Jeannie Jolly, 55, of Shadwell Road, North End, said: ‘These are invaluable resources to have right on our doorsteps, and at the end of the day it’s the children that benefit.’

But Cllr John Ireland said his department was facing a reduction of more than £2.1m in its budget, and can’t afford to keep everything running.

‘When push comes to shove we have got to deliver cuts,’ he said. ‘But nothing has been decided, and if I get my way the cut to Connors’ budget will not be as much as 65 per cent. I want to hear from anyone detrimentally affected by these cuts.’

The cuts will be discussed in a meeting at the Portsmouth Guildhall tomorrow at 3pm.

Council hopes to plug the gap in other areas

SERVICES tackling anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse also face cuts because of a drop in government funding.

The proposed cuts in the children’s services budget include £18,700 from anti-social behaviour programmes, £27,200 from youth crime family intervention projects, and £2,890 from money which pays for domestic abuse support.

But the councillor in charge of community safety issues, Cllr Eleanor Scott, said money was going to be put back in by her department to ensure crucial services don’t suffer.

She said: ‘We are going to make sure the money is made up.

‘These reductions in spending on children’s social services will hopefully be replaced by extra money allocated for community safety in last month’s budget.

‘I am meeting the Safer Portsmouth Partnership to ensure they have all the funds they need for these programmes, and to make sure that despite a 20 per cent cut in my department’s budget, services aren’t hit.’

Also facing cuts to their funding are programmes which help youngsters struggling with teenage pregnancy and substance misuse, as well the community project Motiv8 – which is set to lose a worker in its Paulsgrove team.